Exit Interview: Justin Harding

He may be back home in his beloved Beehive State now, but veteran GOP aide Justin Harding tells HOH he will absolutely miss the hustle and bustle — and occasional solitude — of life on Capitol Hill. The seasoned House aide is following in his latest boss’ footsteps, leaving the side of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to serve as chief of staff to Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert. Chaffetz did time as chief of staff to then-Utah Gov. John Huntsman before striking out on his own. Harding started his new gig Monday. In the decade-and-a-half since he first arrived here in the District, Harding has grown accustomed to certain things, including oversized breakfasts from Pete’s Diner (212 Second St. SE) — “Belgian waffle with melted butter and maple syrup won’t make your dietician or cardiologist happy, but it makes for a great morning meal,” he quipped — and sugary pick-me-ups from the Rayburn Café. “Who doesn’t love fried dough, glazed with sugar and filled with gooey apple goodness?” Harding posited. A devout Mormon, Harding didn’t get to know our local watering holes very well, opting, instead, to decompress in the comfort of his own living room. “I unwound at home with my wife, kids, and copious amounts of dark chocolate and seltzer water,” he said of his relaxation ritual. It sounds like even when he was on the clock, Harding had the good fortune to be surrounded by people that made him feel perfectly at ease. He praised Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, for always keeping things light (“not only has great style, he also has killer puns and is the king of dead pan”) and his original boss, ex-Rep. James V. Hansen, R-Utah, for teaching him the power of engagement. “He was an excellent storyteller with a great sense of timing on punch lines and delivery,” Harding asserted. That appreciation of rhetorical gifts appears to have spilled over into the entire office; Harding said Team Chaffetz remains glued to the office TVs whenever Reps. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., or John Lewis, D-Ga., step up to the mic. “We all tune in and listen up,” he said. Of course, sometimes it’s nice to get away from it all, too. Like the evening Harding enjoyed a very Zen stroll across the campus. “One of my most memorable moments was several years ago when I walked from my office in the Longworth Building to the Russell building and did not encounter (other than a U.S. Capitol policeman at the tunnel entry) another human being. I had the Capitol to myself and it was quietly stunning and peaceful,” he shared. His most fear-inducing experience had to be slogging through the utter chaos that engulfed the city on Sept. 11, 2001. “As I drove away from the Capitol and down South Capitol Street, I kept looking in my rear view mirror to ensure the Capitol Dome was still intact. Seeing the thick black smoke rise up from the Pentagon was surreal,” he recalled. “Surely a day never to be forgotten.” Confidence is low the native Utahn will be particularly broken up about missing out on the weather here in the nation’s capital. “We are looking forward to being close to family, the mountains, and no longer needing to chase the snow every winter,” the outdoors enthusiast related. He does, however, cherish the many connections he made during his decade-plus stay in town. “We will miss our area friends, who've been like family, but are excited about this new opportunity,” Harding stated.